Getting and Keeping It

Back in 1959 a man by the name of Walter Tevis wrote the finest book on sport motivation yet to be printed. Now, it's not so surprising that a person might endeavor to write on the subject of competitive motivation. Nor is it surprising that the book might get published. What is surprising is that the man was an English teacher and he wrote about the game of Pool! That's right, the fifteen ball back alley smoky room variety.

Walter Tevis did not write just any book about pool though. He wrote about the highest possible levels of the game, the games where the players don't miss; The games where vast amounts of money ride on the most difficult of shots; The games where control was the most important factor. Control, physical and mental. Walter Tevis wrote a book called "The Hustler". It became a movie and was nominated for academy awards for the fine performances of Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott.

Undoubtedly, the reader is asking what a pool player could have to do with Judo? What does a novel have to do with real life? What could an English teacher show me about teaching Judo? Bear with me, while I try to explain. The pertinent point of the story centered around the inability of the lead character, Fast Eddie, to maintain a winning attitude. It fell to the Hairy Legs (pool room parlance for what might be considered today's coach) Burt, to educate Eddie on the finer points of winning. Burt had to teach Eddie that winning, in-and-of itself, is easy. The person who prepares properly wins! It's that simple. What is not so simple is overcoming the desire to lose. Who on earth would want to lose? Everybody wants to lose! The question is, why?

When you get down to it losing is the way to go. When you lose you get a lot of extra attention. The loser doesn't stand out, he doesn't have any pressure or responsibilities. He just has to go out and lose a match, probably would have lost anyway, right? So why bother? On the other hand, to win and keep on winning you have to work, you have to maintain your concentration. You have to accept responsibility. After all the winner has the responsibility of setting an example by which the loser lives vicariously.

Everybody consoles the loser. Everybody lets him know that they know just how he feels. Everybody tries to make him feel better. What they are doing is letting the loser know that he is one of them, that he belongs. Isn't that one of our deepest and most basic needs, to belong? So why mess it up by all that fuss about winning? Just go out and make it look good. But not too good, don't forget, the other guy is trying to lose too.

Winners are treated differently! The winner is congratulated, put on a pedestal, kept at a distance. After all a winner is different. Common participants don't know how to relate to the winner. They resent the fact that the winner has the unmitigated gall to be better, to strive for a higher level, to disturb the calm surface of every day mediocrity. But then, we can't treat the Winners too harshly! Who are we going to get to defeat the losers? Where else can we get our vicarious thrills? The Winner serves his purpose, so keep him around. Still, deep inside, there is the spark of greatness, the will to win is in all of us. The problem is overcoming the fear of breaking away from the loser's syndrome.

Burt tried to explain this to Eddie in simple terms. Tried to impress on Eddie that the most difficult opponent is yourself! Yes, yourself! Every time you realize that you are beginning to pull away from the loser's attitude there is a moment of panic. A moment when you realize that to stay on course will be a step in the direction of losing the approval of the other losers, a step in the direction of becoming an individual.

Fortunately these moments are easily recognized. They come hard on the heels of a compliment from a spectator or another player. It's the moment when someone says to you "nice move" or "good attack" and you say to yourself "yes it was". At this point a little voice lets you know that you've gone far enough! You've impressed the other losers, don't carry things too far. Everybody knows you're good, if they think you're too good you can't be one of them. This is the enemy! The voice of mediocrity is imploring you to stay with the fold. It's warm and safe here, there's no need to risk your nice safe position. This is the voice that the winner must silence time and again.

Because we're third party observers to Fast Eddie's thoughts we could see these things going on. We see the struggle and the pitfalls but wonder if this is applicable to ourselves. When you stop and think about it, there's not a player or coach who can't recall an incident that meets these circumstances. At some time or other each one of us has had the upper hand and backed off. Perhaps you didn't realize what had happened or why but Burt knew and he made Eddie a winner by making Eddie understand.

Applying this to Judo is the same as applying it to pool. We need to understand that the normal tendency is to lose. After-all winning is hard work with dubious rewards.

If winning is, indeed, foreign, then our objective should not be to win. We need to learn to concentrate on specific objectives. Work to accomplish a certain goal. Cut the variables to a minimum by working toward small advantages. Keep your objectives in mind! If you are occupied with specific goals it is difficult to be distracted by the voice of mediocrity.

Above all, you must accept that it is right to strive to fulfill your potential! Remember, no one else will ever know if you back off at the crucial moment. No one, that is, except you and the other losers, and that's what they want.

This page is provided by the author George Weers and published here by Neil Ohlenkamp, Encino Judo Club, California, USA.

Last modified July 25, 1997